Clean Greens Teach-Out Reflection, By Sara Lavenhar, CAGJ Intern
August 24, 2011
Having never attended a CAGJ teach-out, I was a little apprehensive about organizing one. I didn’t know what to expect out of the event, or if I would be able to make it successful. More than that, I had never properly worked on a farm before; what if I ended up fitting the suburban stereotype and couldn’t handle the work? Waking up early on Saturday, August 20th, I quietly exited my apartment and made my way to the CAGJ office, where I had set the meet-up location. It was a little hazy out and cool in the shade, but the sun was already starting to burn off the moisture on the ground and in the air. I had been crossing my fingers all week that the weather would be good for this trip. Squinting into the rising sun, I was worried it might be too good.
In short order, the four other attendees who agreed to meet me at the office arrived. We exchanged names and pleasantries before quickly setting out on the road. Excepting the highway, the roads to the farm were like a Paul McCartney song: long and winding. I was privileged to be a passenger, so I was able to stare out the window to watch the scenery fly by. Closely-packed buildings soon gave way to suburban sprawl, and we wandered into woods and farmland. Passing farm after farm, some composed of crop fields and others dotted with livestock, I wondered what Clean Greens would look like.
Finally we pulled in to the farm and met up with three other teach-out volunteers who set out on their own. The place appeared empty, and I was worried I had messed something up with timing or coordination. Soon enough though, a white car pulled in full to the brim with leafy green vegetables. The woman driving told me Tommie Willis, one of the farmers at Clean Greens, would be along in just a few minutes. While we waited for Tommie, we were able to coo and ogle at several calves housed in a barn that also served as a living space for workers.
Clean Greens Farm operates in Duvall, WA on 23 acres of land dotted with piles of rocks and wood that serve to ‘pave’ the roads between fields. About seven of these acres get planted with chemical-free produce. The farm was established by the Black Dollar Days Task Force under the guidance of Rev. Robert L. Jeffrey, Sr. Before giving us a tour of the farm, Tommie informed us that much of the motivation for starting Clean Greens was borne out of Rev. Jeffrey’s own illness. He recognized, Tommie told us, that limited access to healthy food was a major problem. The Central District of Seattle and similar communities are experiencing a rise of diet-related illness such as diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as an increase in obesity. The goal of Clean Greens farm was to make fresh, healthy produce available and affordable to low-income communities located in what are called food deserts. The African-American run organization also focuses on community and worker education, providing opportunities to learn about the ecological and water systems, as well as nutrition and job training for inner-city residents.
After giving us a brief tour of the farm, Tommie brought us back up to the greenhouse in the front ‘yard’ where we collected the trays of baby lettuce waiting to be planted. Once he showed us how to plant the seedling starts, Tommie and another farm worker, Antonio, along with two of the volunteers walked along the rows of dirt and dropped lettuce plants. The rest of us promptly got down on our hands and knees and set to work. Pick up seedling, dig a hand-sized hole, drop the start in, cover with dirt, shift over to the next plant. Repeat. We moved pretty quickly, following the trays as the lettuce starts were dropped. Tommie came over a few minutes into our work, and when asked how we were doing, he playfully replied we were “doing good. Not great, but good,” and then went away chuckling to retrieve another lettuce tray.
A little under an hour later with almost all of the trays emptied, Tommie told us we were done. My earlier worries had been confirmed: it had gotten too hot and he was worried about sunstroke. After the starts were all planted, we could take a break, eat lunch, and relax. Tommie and a few volunteers wandered to the field next to the one we had just planted and started to pick out some produce to take home. Generously, Tommie had informed us we could take as much as we wanted, including an entire head of kale which rivaled the size of a laundry basket. I stripped a dozen leaves off and grabbed an enormous head of romaine lettuce to take as well. As we headed back to the house at the front, Tommie took us through rows of fresh broccoli, green onions, rainbow chard, beets, and cabbage. Quickly I became overloaded with produce, all of which smelled wonderful. How was I going to get this home on the bus?
On our way out, we also saw a small chicken pen and a few goats which the farm keeps as well. All of the volunteers had a fair amount of fresh produce with them as we sat under a tree to debrief a little. We chatted amiably about the day and the farm, each of us covered in dirt and grinning ear to ear. Soon enough, though, it was time to leave. Our hard work will pay off in about four weeks, when the lettuce should be ready to harvest. Despite the fact that we didn’t stay as long as we had planned, the visit was fruitful, in more ways than one. The farm, which relies almost completely on volunteer efforts, was given a small leg up towards the next harvest, and we all got to experience how much work goes into farming. The volunteers were given the experience Clean Greens was designed for: to understand the way the Earth sustains us and the importance of healthy, chemical-free food produced entirely by hand. It was a wonderful way to reconnect us to the Earth and to each other, which is what I think Clean Greens may do best. They create a community based around the food we eat and all of the work that goes into getting it from farm to table.
Clean Greens Farm is always in need of volunteers at the farm and at the two market stands they operate in the city. If you or your friends are interested in volunteering, please call their office at (206) 323-0534 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.